I hope everyone will trust me on this post, and give Sertab Erener a hearing. You will not regret it.

I’ve mentioned a number of times my widening acquaintance with Turkish music, both ancient—from Ottoman times—and current. One of the most popular singers on the Turkish pop and jazz scene these days that I’ve become familiar with is Sertab Erener.

My suggestion for listening to Sertab Erener would be to click on the YouTube links right now. You won’t understand the Turkish, but you will understand the sentiment and, if you’re like me, you will totally luxuriate in her voice. Her vibrato on open vowels is so nice, it makes you feel so comfortable.


The rough translation of “Sertab” is “radiance.” Erener grew up in a family that loved music, but she was not overly encouraged to pursue it. From her high school years onward, opera became her passion. Although she was accepted at a private arts high school, her father insisted on her receiving a public education. She did attend the Istanbul University State Conservatory (near my wife Tiraje’s home) and later, the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, also in Istanbul. An encounter with Sezen Aksu—the “Queen of Turkish Pop”—resulted not only in Erener becoming a backup singer for the star, but the recipient of a career boost beyond her imagination.

Aksu helped her with every detail of her first album release in 1992, when Sertab was 28. It became a surprise big hit all over Turkey. Her second album, La’l, was even more successful. Erener won the Eurovision Contest in 2003, the same contest that launched the careers of ABBA and so many other performers. She is now on her tenth album and has collected awards all over Europe and, of course, in Turkey.

Her personal life has been somewhat turbulent, in no small part due to health concerns. She suffered from debilitating ulcerative colitis her whole life, eventually needing three successive operations in the U.S. to save her life. She has been married three times.

Erener’s style and voice has been justly compared to that of Barbra Streisand, who was the greatest pop influence on her development. It is not often that a coloratura operatic soprano has a successful pop music career. Her ability to project a powerful voice and the utilization of a three-octave vocal range have served her well indeed.


La’L is the title song of Erener’s second album. The lyrics were written by Sezen Aksu with music by Fahir Atakoglu.  I’m offering it here both as a track from that album…


…and also in performance with the Izmir Big Band.  The Izmir Big Band is based in Izmir—Turkey’s third largest city, located on the Aegean coast. It is actually a traditional big band and jazz orchestra combination. Their repertoire is diverse—classical, jazz, rock and roll, tango and Latin, and nostalgic pop. The IBB was founded by Murat Han Turgut, drummer and Emrah Sayin, pianist. In this track, before Erener begins singing, there is an extended trumpet solo played by Tolga Bilgin to set the laid-back mood. He is a fine player whose artistry you’ll appreciate.

La’L is a melancholy song about wanting to return to one’s beautiful homeland.

Pics: Sertab Erener, Izmir Big Band, Tolga Bilgin.